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Corporate communication today: from crisis communication to emotional marketing

Every company, in order to achieve its goal and so that these can be interpreted and coordinated in a unified strategy, must deal with the outside world and also become a subject of communication.

Corporate Image

For a company, communication represents a fundamental driver, especially in the current era of the knowledge economy. 

The primary objective is to build a positive image in the media, one that is closely aligned with the company’s identity, vision and mission, i.e. the representation that the company has or wants to have of itself.

The Corporate Image, the starting and finishing point of every communication process, is the image of the company as perceived by the market and must therefore guide every communication intervention.

Communication from one-to-many to many-to-many

With the emergence and spread of social media, communication has changed from one-way to two-way.

Initially, in fact, companies communicated through the one-to-many model, a typical approach used by traditional mass media such as television, radio and the press, and then became many-to-many, i.e. an interaction between several parties that finds its full expression in online communication.

We wanted to talk about that with Professor Alessio Postiglione, director of the Professional Master in Corporate Communication Management, at Rome Business School, who said:

Today, communication plays an increasingly important role and in particular brand journalism – business journalism – because it disseminates sectoral information, building content that highlights the value of the company through storytelling, or if we want to use terms from our culture of classical matrix through mythopoiesis. 

We have to start from the assumption that communication is an activity capable of shaping society and that social media have radically changed the way we communicate by creating a new code that differs from the traditional ones. This is why the sociologist Manuel Castells updates Mashal Mc Luan’s assumption “the medium is the message” to “the network is the message.”

Corporate Reputation

The spread of the concept of corporate reputation is partly due to the publication in 1982, in Fortune magazine, of the first ranking of “America’s most admired companies”. 

It is considered an intangible asset and represents a pivotal point for any organisation, whether public or private, because it expresses the value framework that the organisation has been able to build and transmit over time and on which its future and success depends. 

Corporate reputation, in fact, is based on the ability of a company to satisfy the interests and expectations of the reference public, which is attentive to reliability, honesty and, in recent times, also to the ethical approach of business models.

Crisis communication

A crisis is a serious event for any organisation, characterised by elements of exceptionality, which can have media relevance and cause even irreparable damage not only in economic-financial terms but also in terms of reputation. 

From this point of view, it is necessary to distinguish the issue, a traumatic and potentially damaging event, from the actual crisis, which has a dynamic development that develops in a succession of phases of increasing seriousness and can therefore escape interpretation with rigid and pre-established models.   

This is where crisis communication comes in, with the aim of containing the negative effects of the event and preserving the company’s reputation. 

The paradigms of crisis management have changed. Today, in fact, every communication process is a peacekeeping activity, i.e. aimed at preventing and containing the risk of crisis. This is due to two different factors: the speed at which information is transmitted and the hyper targeting of reference audiences, not unrelated to the phenomenon of gruppism, caused by social networks. Moreover, the web enhances pluralism – everyone can become the megaphone of himself – and at the same time imposes that communication is no longer based on a median consumer profile, an element that exponentially increases the probability of an epic fail. After all, Zygmunt Bauman’s theorisation of the liquid society has given us the conviction that change is the only permanent thing and that uncertainty is the only certainty.

Epic Fail: Dolce&Gabbana: The Stereotype Mistake – BMW: Impatience with Rules

Italian brand Dolce&Gabbana experienced a social media crisis at a major event in Shanghai which was supposed to mark the brand’s definitive presence on the Chinese market. The communication campaign included the launch of promotional clips featuring a Chinese girl who was teased by a voiceover for her inability to eat Italian food with chopsticks. The good-naturedly ironic intent revealed a profound conceptual error in approaching Chinese culture through Western standards and stereotypes.

To publicise the release of a new model, the German car manufacturer BMW published a post on Facebook showing a photo of a car parked in violation of road signs, accompanied by the phrase: “Rules are not for us”. The post, which was intended to be eye-catching and non-conformist, turned out to be a boomerang.  

“The epic failures of Dolce&Gabbana and BMW are examples of how it is not enough to go to the most prestigious communication agency on the market.  Master messages must always be in line with the target audience. Communication, as Clifford Geertz reminds us, is an ideographic knowledge, so it is necessary to know and understand the culture of reference and interpret the key to the contemporary. Furthermore, the ethicality of the messages to be conveyed must never be overlooked.”

Emotional marketing

The last twenty years have seen a change in the relationship between brand and consumer. In the information society, companies have become aware that their communication actions must be focused on the customer and no longer solely on the product, thus changing traditional paradigms.

Marketing has consequently evolved and, starting from sentiment, places the emphasis not on the rational utilitarian dimension of subjects but on the emotional and emotional dimension of people. We have moved away, in fact, from liberal marketing based on the idea that the consumer makes choices by making cost-benefit analyses or by ordering the tree of preferences based on the principle of decreasing marginal utility.

The importance of the emotional element is enhanced by social media that function as communities, where the sociological element, according to the stimulus-response behavioural dynamics, prevails over the paradigm of the economic man. More simply, we could say that there has been a transformation of communication from a rational cognitive dimension to an eminently emotional approach. The most important Web 2.0 marketing manifesto of the 2000s stated, in fact, that markets are conversations and social networks are precisely considered conversations because they are characterised by the social element. From this point of view, messages must take the target audience into consideration: Facebook is aimed at an over-35 audience, Tik Tok reaches the very young, Instragram is a transversal social network and Linkedin is the most suitable channel for business to business”.

Advice for companies: when, how and who communicates

“In the information society, there is no longer a single precise moment for companies to communicate. Social networks, whose audience cannot be scheduled, require real-time communication.  In terms of how to do this, it is important to bear in mind one’s own situation and the means one has at one’s disposal: because there is no point in having 50 social profiles if one is not able to ensure proper management and a prompt response to the posts published. Furthermore, it is worth remembering that the conversational dynamics of the web dictate that 90% of messages must be about social responsibility, in order to create and consolidate the company’s reputation which, as mentioned, is the intangible asset and the real multiplier of economic activity. But a priority element that cannot be overlooked is the knowledge that the company must have of itself, of its own identity in order to identify the right interlocutor in line with its vision and mission, otherwise epic fail risks being just around the corner”.


Journalist, former spokesperson/press office for national and international institutions, such as the Presidency of the Council and the European Parliament, he is director of the Master in Corporate Communications at the Rome Business School. He has written for La Repubblica, L’Espresso, The Huffington Post and is a Knight of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic. His latest book is “Football and Geopolitics. How and why countries and powers use football for their geopolitical interests” (Edizioni Mondo Nuovo, 2021).